The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce is forming a 20-member committee to determine how the metro Atlanta county can capitalize on its new ties with a South Korean community.
On the tail end of an Asian trade mission that started in China on June 18, Gwinnett officials visited Seoul to drum up business and to officially ink a sister-community relationship with Gangnam-gu, one of the Korean capital’s richest districts. GlobalAtlanta was there as Gwinnett inaugurated its first such international partnership. Read that story here.
The county wants to make sure that some “meat and potatoes” come from this gesture of goodwill, said Nick Masino, the chamber’s vice president of economic development.
Mr. Masino is spearheading the committee’s creation. He hopes to attract business, government, tourism and educational leaders who can work effectively with their counterparts in Gangnam.
“In Gwinnett County, the chairman and the commission, they want this to mean something,” said Mr. Masino, who added that the county has already received similar requests from other international communities but will focus first on building a working model with Gangnam.
Before the Gwinnett County Commission approved the Gangnam relationship in March, it laid out seven criteria designed to ensure that Gwinnett’s potential global partners are up to par, Mr. Masino said. They must meet at least five of the requirements, which include standards on hospitals, schools and business practices in their communities.
“We want our relationships to be structured,” said Mr. Masino, who said he agreed with the approach of Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who said in January that she wouldn’t approve new ties with China or India until the city could adequately manage its 18 current relationships.
Jay Eun, president of the Korean-American Association of Greater Atlanta, said the biggest potential for the relationship lies in building educational ties between Atlanta and Gangnam.
“These days a lot of the Korean kids are moving to the U.S. for early education, particularly in Gwinnett County. Quite a few young kids in elementary, middle school and high school are trying to move to the Atlanta area for study,” said Mr. Eun, who traveled with the Gwinnett delegation to Gangnam.
Graduating from an American high school gives Korean students a better chance at admission into a more prestigious college, he said. And if Georgia hosts more Korean students, it will be in a better position to attract investment and tourism.
“Gangnam is one of the richest districts in Seoul, and the Gangnam citizens are willing to make the educational investment for their kids,” Mr. Eun said.
On the eve of the ceremony cementing the partnership, Gwinnett leaders hosted Kook Hyun Chang, an adviser for the Federation of Korean Industries, at an informal dinner in Seoul.
Mr. Chang’s organization represents 450 companies that comprise 75-80 percent of Korea’s economic activity. His 30-year career includes a recent three-year stint in Washington, where he lobbied on behalf of Korean companies and met some 2,500 American executives.
Mr. Chang offered some advice on how Gwinnett could channel the Gangnam relationship into business for the county.
Citing Kia Motors Corp.‘s decision to put a plant in Georgia, Mr. Chang said the absence of unions is an important factor that Gwinnett should promote, especially when talking to large companies.
They should also organize a trade mission so that Korean businesspeople can see the benefits that the county has to offer, he added.
Mr. Masino will return to Korea at the end of August to make a presentation at the Incheon Global Fair on how small businesses can invest in Georgia. He will be accompanied by Mr. Eun, an executive board member of the chamber, who will provide information on Georgia’s growing Korean community.
Craig Lesser, an international business consultant and former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, will make a presentation on large investments in Georgia, according to Mr. Masino. Mr. Lesser led the state’s recruitment efforts arm when Kia announced in 2006 that it would put a plant here.